If someone asks you “How can I help?”, what is your initial reaction?  It likely depends in large part on your context as well as your relationship with said help-offerer. I recently ran a personal experiment to ask one person every day for 2 months how I could be of help to them in their life, with no strings attached.  The outcome was surprising and one that I think is worth sharing.

I’m a believer that what you put out comes back to you.  Some mistake the term karma to mean this. My understanding of it is simple: if you put good out, good comes back your way. The same for the opposite.  I also happen to really like to help people, especially as it pertains to leveraging what I see as my primary resource: my network.

So, I recently set out to make it a priority to ask one person each day about whom I cared how I could be of service to them. From there, the recipient of this offer’s reaction generally followed as so: 1. Surprise, 2. Confusion, 3. Clarfication around whether or not there were genuinely no expectations/strings, 4. Gratitude, and finally 5. No idea how I could help them.  Upon getting to this stage, I’d welcome him/her to follow up with me to ‘cash in’ on my offer when ready. Of the approximate 60 people (1 person a day for 2 months) to whom I made this offer, 3 people had a request for me on the spot. The remainder did not, nor did they ever come back to take me up on my request.

I was initially surprised to see how few people really knew how I could help them. I was also surprised at how few people could soak in the idea that someone really wanted to help them and wanted nothing in return.  Upon further review, it didn’t surprise me as much because I know how much I dislike asking other people for help (or taking it when offered), as well as how infrequently people really stop to think about what it is that they need.

Another reaction of mine to this ‘experiment’ was feeling a bit disheartended, that my genuine intention to help other people (because after all, it’s kind of selfish to do that becuase you know it will make you feel good) barely got off-the-ground becuase so few people wanted to accept.  The plus side was that it was a great excuse to reconnect with old friends and contacts. The down side was that I barely got to do any of the real work I’d challenged myself to do.

You may be asking: ‘Why the hell do you care so much about this? People clearly aren’t interested in your help, so give it a break!’. And if you are thinking that, it’s totally fair. But, as I mentioned previously, helping others is actually kind of self-serving because you do it knowing you’ll feel good and that, if you believe as I do, you know that good will ultimately come back to you in some way.

I was feeling a little burdened with some work-related stuff, so it occurred to me that the best way to get over it would be to get out of my own mess and help someone else.  This morning I thought of trying it another way: of posting to social media here and there to see if anyone would bite and give the broader network a chance to take me up on my offer. So keep an eye out for that.

So, what’s the point here? My point is that I still believe in the power of paying-it-forward and leveraging my greatest resource, my network, to help others.  I suppose that much like in a scientific experiment, I tested a hypothesis, found the outcome to be different than anticipated, and now I’m onto version 2.0.

I’d challenge you to try something similar in your life if this resonnates with you. If it does, share with me about your experience. That’s what I ask of you 😉